Matthew 13 is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry. He had been offering the kingdom and himself as Israel’s king but the nation rejected him. From this point on, he no longer proclaimed that the kingdom was at hand but called individuals to surrender in faith to his lordship. His teaching style also changed—he now taught in parables rather than openly proclaiming his message, thus hiding the truth from those who had rejected him but revealing it to those who hungered after him.
Have you ever wondered what happens to all the preaching and teaching that goes on in this world? Christians speak and write millions of words daily and yet at times it seems that not much comes of it. Has God’s Word lost its power? Have hearts today become impenetrable? The parable of the sower helps us understand these questions about the ministry of the Word. Three basic symbols in this parable must be interpreted in order to understand it.
First, the seed is the Word of God (verse 19). Jesus compares God’s Word to a seed because seeds are carriers of life. First Peter 1:23 says, “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” Like a seed, God’s Word small but powerful! It germinates in the human heart and produces fruit: souls won to Christ (Rom. 1:13), holiness (Rom. 6:22), Christian character (Gal. 5:22-23), good works (Col. 1:10), and praise and thanksgiving (Heb. 13:15). Seeds must be planted to do any good and similarly, God’s Word must be planted and take root and grow in a believer’s heart.
Secondly, the sower is the one who shares the Word of God. This is any person who shares God’s Word with another person. When God’s Word is spoken, the seed is being sown. The sower must have a personal concern for those he shares the Word with (Ps. 126:5-6) and he must have patience (James 5:7), knowing that the harvest will eventually come. The sower partners with God because God is the one who does the growing (1 Cor. 3:6). Sadly, many believers are sowing everything but the Word. Some sow to the flesh (Gal. 6:7-8), some sow discord (Prov. 6:19), and some sow human philosophies and traditions.
Finally, the soil in the parable represents the human heart. This parable is usually known as the parable of the sower but the emphasis is really on the different kinds of soil. Jesus explains that there are four kinds of human hearts, identified by their response to God’s Word.
The hard ground that the seed in the parable fell on represents the hard heart (verse 19). This person’s heart has been so pounded by sin that it is impenetrable to the Gospel. He has been trampled by an endless procession of evil thoughts, cherished sins and ungodly activities. The seed lies on the surface and never sinks in. The problem is not with the seed but with the soil. The good news is that the hard heart can be changed!
The shallow ground (verses 20-21) is an emotional heart who responds to the Word temporarily (professing Christ) but never gets his spiritual roots down deep to get the water and nutrients that he needs. When things get tough his shallow heart is revealed—he never truly repented and believed!
The thorny or weedy ground (verse 22) is the heart that loves the world. He may have received the Word but he is so consumed with the cares of this life—houses, cars, hobbies, prestige, riches—that he won’t turn from self and sin and bear fruit like a true believer would. These first three types of soil/hearts never experience true salvation.
The good soil (verse 23) is the heart that receives the Word, understands and holds fast to it, and as a result produces fruit. Fruit bearing is the whole point of agriculture and sowing. Farmer’s don’t sow because they like to drive tractors and spread fertilizer—they want a crop! We should take advantage of every opportunity to hear God’s Word and let it bear fruit in our lives. When our hearts are good soil in which the Word can be planted and grow deep, then we will bear fruit.